Monessen native gives all the credit to God
Transformation is the theme that dominates the life of Monessen native Edwin C. Bass, as he serves his congregation in St. Louis as the recently consecrated bishop in the Church of God in Christ.
Bass, a 1967 graduate of Monessen High School, was ordained bishop before a crowd of 50,000 in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on Nov. 11. The Church of God in Christ (COGIC) is the fourth largest protestant denomination in the United States with 6.5 million members and 12,000 congregations.
It would seem quite a transformation for the eighth of 10 children born to small-town pastor and missionary parents. However, the real transformation is what Bass himself tries to invoke and inspire in others through his ministry.
It was an event as a young child that began Bass' personal journey toward religious life as he recalls being saved in a revival service. It was perhaps God's destiny that it was the same service in which his now beloved wife of 41 years, Missionary Jessie Miller Bass, remembers being saved as well.
Bass said growing up in a large family and within a godly home with loving parents has helped him develop into the man he is today. His father, the late Bishop Joseph E. Bass Sr., served as a pastor in the Church of God in Christ in Monessen for more than 50 years. His mother, the late Missionary Mary V. Bass, also served the church.
The family's connection to the church has a long lineage, with Bass, his wife, maternal grandfather, parents, four brothers, one sister, and two nephews all contributing to more than 300 years of combined ministry service to the Church of God in Christ.
The call to the church came strong for Bass, as did the call to education.
“My parents instilled in us the need for a good education,” he recalled.
After excelling academically and as an all-conference star athlete in football and track at Monessen High School, Bass graduated from Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y. He also attended Panjab University in Chandigarh, India, as a foreign exchange student. Later he attended Harvard University. In his secular career, he became a senior vice president of sales and marketing for Blue Cross/Blue Shield before answering the call to ministry.
His career required him to relocate to Boston, back to Pittsburgh, then to the Newark/New York area and finally to St. Louis.
It was in St. Louis in 1993 that Bass “made the leap,” as he says. His congregation began with a small group, holding meetings in a hotel. It just grew from there. It's been a “wonderful experience,” he said.
Bass' ministry led him to become the visionary founder and pastor of The Empowered Church COGIC in St. Louis, a progressive ministry that continues to grow and flourish within the Spanish Lake community of St. Louis. The Descending Dove Community Development Corporation is the social action arm of the church.
Bass also serves as president of COGIC Urban Initiatives, a program designed to help solve urban problems by using the network of COGIC churches and ministries. The proactive outreach program is designed to address the needs of urban society in five core areas – education, economic development, crime, family and financial literacy.
It is through this position in the Church of God in Christ that Bass has become the White House Liaison, and has had the opportunity to meet with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on several occasions. Through these meetings, Urban Initiatives has participated with the government's Summer Food Program, which provides hot meals to needy children during the summer months when some don't have access to nutritious meals. Two million meals were served last year through the churches' combined efforts.
This is just one of a vast array of programs offered through Urban Initiatives. Examples of other programs include mentoring, financial literacy training, and basic parenting skills.
Additionally, Bass serves his church community in an array of capacities including chairman of the Social Justice Theology Council, member of the presiding bishop's Executive Committee, the Senior Executive Planning Commission, the presiding bishop's Voter Initiative Committee, the Simul-Conference Committee, the Quality Assurance Team and Mason Street Project Board.
He has also served the community on the boards of the United Way of Greater St. Louis, St. Louis Transitional Hope House, Lindenwood University, Grace Hill Economic Development Corp., the Urban League of St. Louis, the U.S. Justice Department's Operation Weed and Seed, the Christian Hospital Ethics Committee and the Colgate University Alumni Corp.
Bass has received numerous honors and awards, including a feature in Speaking of People in Ebony magazine. He is nationally known for coining the phrase, “I Won't Be Silent Anymore!” having authored the book of that name. He has also received “The Presiding Bishop's Medal” for his work in Urban Initiatives during the 2010 Holy Convocation.
Bass credits God for all his accomplishments, stating he owes much of his success, as well, to his wife and parents.
“Through success and disappointment she has been a bedrock of encouragement, support, and wise counsel,” he said of his wife. “Honestly, I am not sure where I would be without her.”
Bass and his wife are the parents of Sean, Craig, and Courtney and grandparents to Kyng Cleveland, Paige Bass, and Hannah Bass. Their eldest son, Sean Edwin, an Operation Desert Storm veteran, was lost a decade ago through a random act of violence while visiting the family in St. Louis. The tragedy has increased the family's understanding of the pain and suffering of others, which they utilize in their ministry, Bass said.
The Bass family has been living in the St. Louis area since 1983. Though the ministry keeps their family busy, they still visit the Mon Valley area about once a year.
The transformative qualities of a life driven by God are remarkable, according to Bass, and it is what he loves most about being a pastor and bishop.
“I love seeing people become what they are created to be,” he said.
Bass recalls the most inspiring memory from his ministry when a young man in the community, suffering from alcoholism, collected cans to sell to get liquor and ramen noodles every day for years. A family member was able to encourage the man to come to church with her. “Eventually the man cleaned up his life,” Bass said.
“He now owns his own company with 30 employees and has financial and personal success.”
“I want to see people the way God sees them – not the way they are at a given moment (in their circumstances),” Bass said. “I want to look beyond that and see their potential and abilities.”
“That's the story of all of our lives. We all have gone through some transformation to achieve our God-given destiny.”
A black-tie Inaugural Celebration Banquet honoring Bass will take place 6 p.m. Aug. 16 at the Ritz Carlton, 100 Carondelet Plaza in Clayton, Mo.
Anyone interested in attending or placing a letter of congratulations in the souvenir book is asked to contact Paula Hearn at 314-537-6373 or Nina Jones at 314-518-9561.
Miranda Startare is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.
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